Backyard Orchard News
You'll see drought-tolerant plants, plants perfect for your pollinators, and the Arboretum All-Stars. The All-Stars are the Oscars of your garden. They're like Academy Awards. The horticultural staff selected some 100 plants that are "easy to grow, don't need a lot of water, have few problems with pests or diseases, and have outstanding qualities in the garden. Many of them are California native plants and support native birds and insects. Most All-Star plants can be successfully planted and grown throughout California."
The teaching nursery is stocked with more than 14,000 plants of almost 400 varieties. Eighty-percent were grown on site. (Download this PDF to access the inventory.)
It's a members' only sale, but anyone can become a member at the door. The staff asks that you BYOC or BYOB. That's Bring Your Own Cart or Bring Your Own Box. A limited number of carts is available.
While there, be sure to check out the permanent garden art that graces the teaching nursery. You'll see artistic bugs created by UC Davis students under the tutelage, encouragement and inspiration of the Ullman/Billick duo. That would be entomologist/artist Diane Ullman, professor of entomology at UC Davis, and self-described "rock artist" Donna Billick (who has a bachelor's degree in genetics). They co-founded and co-directed the UC Davis Art/Science Fusion Program. The resulting ceramic-mosaic art is a treasure trove, not only in the Arboretum teaching nursery, but throughout the campus and downtown Davis and beyond. It's a living legacy of what can be done when art is fused with science, and when science is fused with art.
Want more information on the plant sale and/or upcoming sales? Phone (530) 752-4880 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
A honey bee foraging on a redbud, Cercis canadensis, at the UC Davis Arboretum Teaching Nursery. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
This bug will greet you in the UC Davis Arboretum Teaching Nursery. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Buggy eyes, long antennae and a colorful body characterize this garden art in the UC Davis Teaching Nursery. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
An Oregon grape, Berberis aquifolium, glows in the UC Davis Arboretum Teaching Nursery. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
All the more reason to appreciate what Christian Nansen, agricultural entomologist at the University of California, Davis, and two of his colleagues just did.
Nansen and Changquing Luo and Cong Wei, both from China's Northwest A&F University, just published their research on the so-called "mute" cicadas. Are they really mute? If so, how do they communicate and attract mates?
Their work, “How Do ‘Mute' Cicadas Produce their Calling Songs?”, appears in the Feb. 25th edition of PLOS ONE, an open access peer-reviewed scientific journal published by the Public Library of Science.
Cicadas in the genus Karenia lack the specialized sound-producing structures that characterize most cicadas, says Nansen, an assistant professor in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. They have no tymbal mechanism.
But they are not mute. “They do indeed produce sounds,” he says.
In ground-breaking research, the scientists discovered a new sound-production mechanism in Karenia caelatata, which produces impact sounds by banging the forewing costa against the operculum. It's somewhat like beating a drum while other cicada species with tymbal mechanisms play an orchestra of diverse and loud sounds.
“As part of quantifying species' differences in behavior, we used hyperspectral imaging of forewing costae and demonstrated that high-spectral resolution imaging can reveal distinct patterns, such as difference between mute and normal cicadas,” Nansen explained. “So application of such imaging technologies may become a ‘bridge' between in-depth field behavioral research and detailed physiology and histology (structural studies) of insect body parts.”
In their publication, the researchers described the temporal, frequency and amplitude of the sound produced. They also posted the sound on YouTube,
“Morphological studies and reflectance-based analyses reveal that the structures involved in sound production of K. caelatata (i.e., forewing, operculum, cruciform elevation, and wing-holding groove on scutellum) are all morphologically modified,” they wrote. “Acoustic playback experiments and behavioral observations suggest that the impact sounds of K. caelatataare used in intraspecific communication and function as calling songs.”
“The new sound-production mechanism expands our knowledge on the diversity of acoustic signaling behavior in cicadas and further underscores the need for more bioacoustic studies on cicadas which lack tymbal mechanism,” they concluded in their abstract.
Cicadas, also known as “tree crickets” (from Latin cicada), are among the most widely recognized of insects due to their large size (usually 2 to 5 centimeters or more) and loud sound. They live in warm climates, from temperate to tropical. Immature cicadas spend most of their lives sucking juice from tree roots. The adults suck plant juices from stems.
The best-known North American genus, Magicicada, has a long life cycle of 13 or 17 years and emerges in great numbers.
Nansen joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology in January. He is focusing on four major themes: host plant stress detection, host selection by arthropods, pesticide performance, and use of reflectance-based imaging in a wide range of research applications.
Already he is using his international expertise to zero in on more sustainable farming systems, better food production and fewer pesticides.
“The agricultural sector in California is so exciting, because of its diversity and economic importance,” said Nansen, whose agricultural entomology expertise encompasses seven countries including his native Denmark. “Secondly, there is a strong spirit of innovation in this region, and I hope to contribute to the development of highly advanced crop monitoring systems and decision support tools, so that farming practices can become less reliant on pesticides.”
“I also believe that the strong academic programs at UC Davis with ecology and evolution are of incredible value, and that we can integrate the basic theory from these disciplines into the fundamental of crop management to obtain more sustainable farming systems,” Nansen said. “As an example of a line of research I am interested in – application of fertilizers obviously affect crop growth, but they also affect the attractiveness of crops to many insect pests, and they influence the ability of plants to resist attacks by several important insect pests.”
“So, how can we optimize use of crop fertilizers to stimulate yields but also minimize risks of pest infestations? The answer to such a question is underpinned by in-depth understanding about host selection ecology and about fitness and evolutionary processes involved in host adaptation. In other words, it is critically important to demonstrate how we can use studies of agricultural systems to learn about the ecology of species and their food webs and evolutionary processes.”
Born and educated in Denmark, Nansen received his master's degree in biology from the University of Copenhagen in 1995 and his doctorate in zoology from the Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University in Denmark in 2000. He accepted positions in Portugal, Benin, United States, UK and Australia before coming to UC Davis. His international experience also includes being an international exchange student at the University of Lisbon, Portugal and a visiting professor at Northwest A&F University, Yangling, China.
As part of his undergraduate studies, Nansen took time off to travel to Brazil to write a book about sustainable agriculture in rainforest areas. “In this process, I learned about the potential of honey bees as both pollinators of crops but also as ‘promoters' more broadly of sustainable agricultural development,” Nansen said.
Nansen wrote his master's thesis on honey bees: “The Apis mellifera Forging Response to the Pollen Availability in Cistus salvifolius.” The plant isalso known as a sage-leaved rock rose or Gallipoli rose. He conducted field work in Portugal involving pollen identification, observations on daily flight and foraging activity, and modeling of pollen availability.
For his doctorate, his interest turned to the larger grain borer, a serious pest of stored maize and dried cassava roots. He wrote his dissertation on “The Spatial Distribution and Potential Hosts of the Larger Grain Borer, Prostephanus truncatus (Horn) (Coleoptera: Bostrichidae), in a forest in Benin, West Africa.” His research involved stored product insect ecology, field trapping with pheromone traps, experimental work on pheromone production, vegetation analysis, satellite image interpretation, laboratory infestation of potential breeding substrates, and histological studies.
“Agricultural entomology has given me so many opportunities to travel and work internationally, and that has been extremely rewarding,” he said. “I am passionate about food production and how to produce food ‘smartly' – so that it is profitable and also environmentally sustainable. And insects are critically important in manipulated food webs, such as, a crop field, forest, orchard, or horticultural greenhouse. I enjoy studying their ecological roles in these systems and how we can use that information to develop smarter ways to produce food.”
A "mute" cicada, Karenia caelatata. (Photo by Christian Nansen)
Agricultural entomologist Christian Nansen. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Have you seen the male Valley carpenter bee, that green-eyed blond fondly nicknamed "the teddy bear bee?" (Well, it does have that fuzzy-wuzzy look, and it being a male, has no stinger.)
The Valley carpenter bee, Xylocopa varipuncta, and other species that are featured in the newly published book, California Bees & Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (Heyday Books), will literally come to life if folks come together and fund a documentary.
Plans call for Team Candiru, a small, not-for-profit natural history production company based in Bristol, England, to film the 45-minute documentary. They will partner with the UC Berkeley Urban Bee Lab, operated by Professor Gordon Frankie, lead author of the book.
Team Candiru specializes in "visually compelling, educational and scientifically accurate content," according to the good folks at the UC Berkeley Urban Bee Lab. They pointed out that the film will explore "the lives of the silent majority--the wild bees. They are diverse, numerous, fascinating, and beautiful. We will show in exquisite detail how they overcome life's challenges, finding mates and caring for their young before time runs out!"
California has some 1600 species of native bees. Like their cousins the honey bees, they also pollinate crops and flowering plants, but just aren't as well known.
The documentary is intended to extend information about the importance of native bees to thousands of schoolchildren, naturalists, gardeners, and researchers. The goal is to raise $99,000. The best part about Team Candiru is that their completed films are free for everyone's viewing pleasure and education. (See newlsetter on the UC Berkeley Urban lab website.)
Team Candiru is comprised of:
- James Dunbar is a camera operator who films insects, spiders and other small creatures. (See his portfolio on his website.) Dunbar holds a bachelor's degree, with honors, in zoology from the University of Glasgow, where he specialized in the behavior of insects. He received a master's degree in wildlife documentary production from the University of Salford, Manchester.
- Richard Mann, the second cameraman, specializes in time-lapse plant cinematography. He hails from Luxembourg and holds a bachelor's degree in wildlife and the media from the University of Cumbria and a master's degree in wildlife documentary production from the University of Salford.
- Hazel Waring is in charge of outreach, online media, and fundraising. She has a background in music and studied at the University of Sheffield, specializing in organizing scientific activities at local schools and museums. Her expertise includes the effects of climate change on plants.
- Dave Gillies is a composer, radio presenter and voice-over artist. He is responsible for the audio side of Team Candiru -- writing and performing the music, narrating, and adding the sound effects. He also presents a soundtrack radio show on futuremusic.fm.
Donors' names will be published on the Urban Lab website; on all promotional materials and venues; and will be listed in the film credits. Here's how you can help make the documentary a reality:
- Make a tax-deductible donation on the Heyday website (
Heyday Books is the fiscal sponsor). Everything counts, nothing is too small!
- Spread the word: send to all interested persons and share on Facebook and Twitter.
There's another way to get involved. The project organizers are seeking a name for the documentary. The subtitle will be California Bees and Blooms to tie in with the book. You can send catchy suggestions to email@example.com. They will announce the winner in their next newsletter.
As for California Bees and Blooms, it is the work of four scientists closely connected to UC Berkeley: UC Berkeley entomologist Gordon Frankie; native pollination specialist Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis who holds a doctorate from UC Berkeley; photographer Rollin Coville of the Bay Area, who holds a doctorate in entomology from UC Berkeley, and Barbara Ertter of UC Berkeley, curator of Western North American Botany and Jepson Herbaria at UC Berkeley.
A male Valley carpenter bee, Xylocopa varipuncta. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Entomologist Gordon Frankie, professor at UC Berkeley. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The new UC California Cooperative Extension apiculturist, Elina Lastro Niño, has moved it to her website now that Eric Mussen has retired. Mussen, now Extension apiculturist emeritus, wrote the newsletter from 1976 to 2014 and loaded it on his UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology website. The editions are now archived.
The new home? It's on the elninobeelab website.
It's available online for free, of course. The newsletter is published bimonthly: in February, April, June, August, October and December. Niño relates: "If you wish to have this newsletter sent directly to your email address, please follow the instructions below. Enter this URL into your browser: https://lists.ucdavis.edu/sympa/subscribe/ucdavisbeenews. When it opens, it should relate to subscribing to this newsletter. Enter your email address and then click submit. It is time to decide whether to continue your hard copy subscription. The mailed subscription rate is now $25 per year (six issues). If you'd still like to continue this subscription please send a check by April 10, 2015 payable to the UC Regents and mailed to Elina L. Niño at the address in the signature block. Be sure to include your name and mailing address. If the check is not received you will not receive the next issue of the newsletter as a hard copy. This, of course, does not apply to those who have already prepaid for a certain time period."
In the newest edition, published today, you'll learn about how to treat those nasty Varroa mites, known far and wide (except in Australia, which doesn't have them) as beekeepers' Public Enemy No. 1.
Niño writes about HopGuard® II, "basically an 'old' product developed by BetaTec Hop Products, Inc., but it has an improved delivery system."
You'll also learn
- what Niño said when she addressed the the Avocado Pollination Seminar series
- that EPA is registering a new insecticide, flupyradifuron
- about exciting upcoming events, including a bee symposium, open house, and queen-rearing workshops, and
- some great information about how honey bees collect nectar.
How honey bees collect nectar is her Kids' Corner feature. "Usually after about three weeks of life as a house bee, all healthy honey bees in a normal, healthy colony become foragers," she writes. "They start every morning by going out into the world looking for the best sources of sugary nectar and protein-rich pollen. Some of them even collect water. Now, I'm sure you've seen these friendly ladies just buzzing along visiting flowers in your back yard. By the way, just a reminder, forager bees will not attack unless they feel threatened so just make sure you don't bother them and you should be fine (and tell your friends too!). "
Niño goes on to explain the process, and points out, as Mussen emphasizes, that honey is "not actually bee vomit as it never goes through a digestion (breakdown) process in the digestive tract of a honey bee." (Mussen officially retired in June 2014 after 38-years of service, but he continues to maintain an office in Briggs Hall and assists wherever he can, including writing a few articles for the newsletter.)
Niño, who joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology on Sept. 1, 2014 from Pennsylvania State University—2600 miles away--is as busy as the proverbial worker bee.
“California is a good place to bee,” she told us recently. “I just wish I could have brought some of that Pennsylvania rain with me to help out California's drought."
Niño operates her field lab at Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus, and at her lab in Briggs Hall, on the central campus. Her aims: to conduct practical, problem-solving research projects; to support the state's beekeepers through research, extension and outreach; and to address beekeeper and industry concerns.
The mission of her program is "to provide support to California beekeepers and other relevant stakeholders through research, extension and outreach." Niño studies honey bee biology, health, reproduction, pollination biology, insect ecology, evolution, genomics and chemical ecology.
From left are members of the Niño lab: Elina Lastro Niño, Cameron Jasper, Billy Synk and Bernardo Niño. (Photo by Anand Varma)
He passed Jan. 22, 2015. A celebration of life will take place at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 1, at the University Retirement Community at 1515 Shasta Drive, Davis.
Characterized as having a wonderful sense of humor, an always-ready smile and quick wit, Vern Burton was also an avid golfer. That's why a “Putt One for Vern” contest will be included in the reception festivities.
Vern was born in Omaha, Neb., on June 3, 1924, the only child of John and Vesta Burton. He spent his childhood in several states: Nebraska, Minnesota and Illinois before his father, in the tire business, moved his family to Los Angeles in 1939.
In July 1943, young Vern was inducted into the U.S. Army and sent to Camp Adair, Ore., to a new wartime infantry division – the 70th Infantry “Trailblazer” Division. Burton would later say that his three years in the Army proved to be “a great educational experience and quite an adventure for someone just out of high school." He landed in Marseille, France on Dec. 15, “the day the Germans launched the Battle of the Bulge. “I went overseas as a squad leader (Battle of the Bulge) and came back as a platoon sergeant." He received his honorable discharge in April 1946.
It was while he was completing basic training in the Willamette Valley, Oregon, that he met his future wife, Charlotte McKnight. They were married for more than 66 years. The couple raised two daughters, who in turn gave them four granddaughters.
Young Vern earned a bachelor's degree in entomology from UC Berkeley and a master's from LSU. He retired from his entomological career in December 1988.
Back in the fall of 2009, we interviewed Vern Burton for a feature story. He was 85 then and residing in the University Retirement Community.
"Vern Burton didn't set out to become an entomologist.
"Home from the World War II battlefields, he enrolled in Compton Community College and then the University of California, Berkeley.
"A family friend promised him a job in his termite control business once he finished his studies.
"His college associates, however, couldn't envision 'Vern and termites' in the same sentence.
"Neither could he."
Burton told us during the interview: "There were better things to do in life than crawling under a house looking for termites."
So began a 38-year career that would encompass 10 years as a Kern County Farm Adviser and 28 years as an Extension entomologist affiliated with the UC Davis Department of Entomology. During his career, Burton worked with crops such as alfalfa, beans, cotton, potatoes, small grains and sugar beets and helped resolve pest problems through integrated pest management (IPM) strategies and close associations with university researchers.
Burton enjoyed working with researchers like noted alfalfa seed expert Oscar Bacon, now a retired professor and former chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology. “I'd help identity problems in the field and take them back to the researchers” he told us. "I always enjoyed helping people in ag and urban settings with their insect problems,” Burton said, “or their perceived problems.”
Tuber worms in potatoes? Check. Lygus bugs in seed alfalfa? Check. Spider mites on dry beans? Check. Nematodes in cotton? Check. Green peach aphids in sugar beets? Check. Burton helped recommend the guidelines in several of the Statewide IPM Program's commodity manuals. His collaborative research also appears in California Agriculture and other publications.
When Burton retired in December 1988, then Cong. Vic Fazio lauded him for his outstanding contributions to California agriculture, particularly in the field of IPM. In remarks entered into the congressional record on Jan 4, 1989, Fazio said that Burton “contributed greatly to California agriculture and to the University of California's mission for excellence in agricultural research, education and public service.”
“Mr. Burton's outstanding contributions include the development of innovative methods and strategies for nematode control in cotton, which have improved production while reducing pesticide use. He also aided in the development and establishment of treatment thresholds for green peach aphid on sugar beets and established and supervised the cotton pest management program in the San Joaquin Valley in the 1970s. That work resulted in the appropriation of permanent federal funds for an integrated pest management program.”
"Other successes included more effective and efficient control of lygus bugs and spider mites on dry beans, development of a successful pest management program on Burbank potatoes, and investigations on an aphid believed to be a serious insect pest on small grains. Mr. Burton helped prove that the aphid actually had no significant impact on grain yields and thereby insecticide use was markedly reduced.”
Fazio noted that over the years, Burton “has provided support and guidance to county programs conducted by Farm Advisors through field test pilot activities, recommendations, and suggestions for problem solutions, and printed information and participation in educational programs. He has also helped disseminate education and informative entomological information to a diverse clientele in agricultural and urban areas throughout the state.”
"Vern was dedicated to California growers, and worked tirelessly to provide new and useful information to them," IPM specialist Frank Zalom, professor of entomology at UC Davis, told us. "He understood the research-extension continuum better than most people ever could, having served the university as an extension entomologist in the county and also here on campus.”
Also active in entomological organizations, Burton served as president and secretary-treasurer of the Northern California Entomology Club and as secretary-treasurer of the Pacific Branch of the Entomological Society of America.
Burton and his wife, a retired 20-year accountant with the UC Davis Viticulture and Enology Department, moved into the University Retirement Community, Davis, in 2004.
In his early retirement years, he served as a lieutenant governor in 1992-93 of Division 7, Kiwanis International; worked four years in the UC Davis Medical Center gift shop and helped with the Kiwanis Family House at the Med Center. He traveled with his family, played golf and fished.
A favorite activity since childhood was “to get up early and go fishing in the morning and fry it for breakfast the same day.”
Emeritus Extension Apiculturist Eric Mussen, who joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty in 1976 and retired in 2014, remembers Vern as a “dedicated scientist with a terrific sense of humor.” They shared office space with two other scientists on the third floor of Briggs Hall.
Vern claimed that bees would always single him out for special attention, Mussen said.
“Whenever I'd watch a honey bee demonstration in alfalfa and clover fields (which bees pollinate), honey bees would find me and deposit their stinger," Burton told us. "I'd stay out of the fields if they just moved in the honey bees.”
At age 85, Vern was enjoying retirement: spending time with his wife, reading mysteries, using his computer (“I used to be scared to death of computers and since my retirement, I've become friends with it”), playing computer card games (bridge, poker and hearts) and watching occasional sports on TV, especially professional golf and football (he played football in high school) and college baseball and basketball.
Burton was preceded in death by his wife, Charlotte Burton. He is survived by his daughters Maryn Mason (Bill) and Anice Isaacs (Bob); and granddaughters Kimberly Mason, Audra Anderson (Kory), Rebecca Mason, Ashley Nolan (Bowie).
In lieu of flowers, the family requests remembrances to the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, UC Davis, 1 Shields Ave., Davis, CA 95616; the Kiwanis Family House, 2875 50th St., Sacramento, CA 95817; or The University Retirement Community Foundation, 1515 Shasta Drive, Davis, CA 95616.
Remembrances can be posted on the online guestbook at http://www.wiscombefuneral.com/
Vern Burton at 85. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)